Private schools to meet to decide fate


Private schools, which were stung at the beginning of this term by the government’s decision to close them unless they revised their school fees, are to meet in a week or two to decide their fate.

Neil Todd, a consultant with the Association of Trust Schools (ATS) of Zimbabwe, told the Financial Gazette that some of the schools might have to close before the end of this term if they do not find ways to raise money to meet their commitments.

A circular distributed to parents by the schools says most of the schools had complied with the ministry’s directive under duress “solely and expressly” to enable children to return to school pending “immediate appeals to the ministry”.

The Ministry of Education barred 48 private schools from reopening for the second term unless they revised their fees downwards. Most schools had increased their fees by up to 500 percent in the first term and wanted to double them in the second term.

The Trust says despite assurances by the minister, Aeneas Chigwedere, and the permanent secretary, Stephen Mahere, that appeals would be accepted, schools had now been informed that the case was now closed as far as the ministry was concerned.

It said the directive, which forced some schools to peg fees, in some cases at September 2003 levels, had rendered some insolvent.

“This considerable reduction in revenue which flows from the position taken by the ministry has extremely serious consequences for the schools, some of which will be rendered insolvent almost immediately and all of which will be facing extreme difficulties in relation to possible contractual and other commitments to staff and suppliers,” the circular says. “Most if not all ATS schools risk closure before the end of the second term.”

Todd could not say how many schools exactly were in dire straits saying he would only know this after the meeting.

The Trust said there was a lot of ignorance and mistrust on how private schools operated. This had been amply demonstrated by statements made by the minister on national television where he claimed that the schools were foreign owned, that they generated huge profits which they externalised, and that they employed their kith and kin to create employment for whites.

The circular also quoted Chigwedere as saying the only reason they were hiking fees was to make these schools unreachable to blacks and that the schools were factories to produce Rhodesians.

“If indeed this was the reality, it is doubtful that ATS schools would enjoy such overwhelming support from Members of Parliament, the armed forces, high ranking civil service officials and leaders of commerce and industry, who have chosen to have their children educated in our schools,” the circular says.

It also says the ATS schools, a loose association of 60 schools comprising 40 primary and 20 secondary, have about 25 000 pupils. It has a central bursary fund presently supporting 200 pupils at a cost of over $120 million. Schools also have internal bursaries that offer assistance to over 2 000 pupils. Parents of children at private schools also invest more than $150 billion a year in education, it says.

“ATS member schools eschew racism and elitism and do not discriminate against pupils in respect of entry. The schools are non-profit making enterprises, owned by trusts. They have no shareholders, no capital reserves and no endowments,” the circular says. “The governors receive no financial reward, not even expenses….Fees charged are set at levels sufficient only to recover costs.”

Observers said private had been severely jolted by the government’s decision to shut them down if they did not revise their fees.

“All along they had thought they were in control, but the ministry’s decision had finally shown them who was in control,” a teacher who has been working at private schools since 1991 and has served in Mashonaland West, Masvingo and Bulawayo said.

Even the ATS admitted that things had gone haywire. “At the outset, it must be acknowledged that several of the Trust schools were grossly irregular in their non-observance of the (Education) Act and there is need to apologise unreservedly,” the circular said. “All schools are now in full compliance and it has been accepted that such behaviour will not be tolerated in the future.”

According to the teacher several heads had also threatened to resign following their arrest for non-compliance because they felt board members should have been arrested instead as they set the fees.


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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